Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
The vast majority of Americans have been sickened by the horrific video of a white Minneapolis police officer slowly and agonizingly choking to death a 26 year-old African-American man, George Floyd.
Mr. Floyd had not committed any act of violence prior to being arrested and was lying prone on his stomach, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, as the officer applied pressure with his knee and the full force of his body weight to Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 53 seconds.
The murder of Mr. Floyd while in police custody was the culmination of a series of high-profile, race-related incidents in recent weeks that have highlighted the racism that is inherent in our society and that have spurred the protests for the past week in major cities across the country.
What has been striking about the protest movement is that the protesters in every city have been representative of all races and nationalities, similar to the peaceful protest marches and the Freedom Rider movement in the 1960s that were led by Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement at that time.
Unfortunately, there always are a few people who will seek to profit from any situation. Those who have been vandalizing property and who have been ransacking high-end retailers, as occurred Sunday night along Newbury St. and in downtown Boston, are professional criminals with lengthy records who have jumped on the protest bandwagon, so to speak, solely in order to take advantage of the diversion of the police created by the peaceful and legitimate protesters.
However, the criminal behavior by a small minority of professional criminals amidst the protesters should not be a basis, either for average Americans or for our political leaders, to fail to acknowledge two important aspects of the current protest movement:
First, that every American has a right of free assembly and second, that our nation must address the rampant racism that exists at every level of society.
Our government leaders who negatively are politicizing the current situation are no different than the criminals who are ransacking the high-end stores. Both are seeking to hijack the legitimate methods and goals of the protest movement for their own ends.
However, we must not allow either the criminal element or unscrupulous politicians to distract us from attaining the goal so eloquently expressed
by Dr. King in his “I Have a Dream” speech before 250,000 persons at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Fifty seven years later, America still is a long way from realizing Dr. King’s dream of racial equality. Hopefully, the sad and tragic events of the past few weeks will rekindle in every American the need to achieve the goal of a just society for all Americans.